Direct-to-consumer retailers try to bring pizzazz to dull goods

FEW FIRMS have spawned an industry. Warby Parker, a millennial-chic spectacles firm, has a decent claim to be one of them. A decade ago the startup pioneered selling products directly to shoppers online, using the internet to avoid the costs of bricks-and-mortar shops and chip away at clunky consumer-goods incumbents that relied on distributors and retailers. Thousands of direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies followed in its footsteps. Venture-capital (VC) firms threw money at them; Warby Parker’s latest funding round gave it a valuation of $3bn. On August 24th, in the biggest test yet of market appetite for the business model, it opted to go public—appropriately, selling shares directly to investors rather than through intermediaries as in a conventional initial public offering (IPO). A week later Allbirds, an online trainers-seller, said that it, too, will float its shares.
Such apparent successes stand out in a graveyard of casualties. Even the survivors struggle to make money. Warby Parker’s net loss more than doubled from $23m in 2018 to $56m in 2020. Allbirds lost $40m in the past two years. Casper, a mattress-maker, has yet to recover from a lacklustre IPO in 2020. Its market value of $205m is a fifth of its pre-IPO private valuation. Away, which sells suitcases, and Outdoor Voices, a clothing company, have lost a string of bosses…
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